Tentative agreements reached between the United Auto Workers (UAW) union and the Detroit Three automakers are “changing the face of the country,” President Joe Biden told auto workers at a soon-to-reopen automotive assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois on Thursday.
“Wall Street didn’t build America. The middle class built America, and unions built the middle class,” Biden said to the enthusiastic audience. “The automakers are doing incredibly well, so the autoworkers should be doing incredibly well as well. … In the end, the deal you reached set a new standard.”
Thousands of United Auto Workers union members are still voting this month on a set of tentative agreements with Ford, Stellantis, and General Motors that in late October effectively ended a six-week strike that began on Sept. 15 and, at its peak, brought 46,000 union members to the picket lines outside of eight assembly plants and 38 parts warehouses across the country.
Biden flew into Illinois on Thursday afternoon to meet with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and UAW President Shawn Fain, speak with workers about the power of collective bargaining, and renew his administration’s commitment to delivering for working families and creating union jobs.
“For too long, the wealthy and big corporations have done just fine, but the rest of us were cut out of that deal,” he said. “American workers are ready to work harder than everybody else, but they just have to be given a shot and a fair wage. … Record profits mean record contracts.”
“These deals are game-changers, not only for UAW workers, but for all workers in America,” Biden added. “Just ask the folks at Toyota. They had no choice because of what you did.”
The contracts, if approved by 146,000 union members in the coming weeks, would dramatically raise pay for auto workers. And in the deal reached with Stellantis, the union was able to save an idled factory in Belvidere, a small city of 25,000 people about 70 miles northwest of Chicago.
Stellantis’ recent decision to reopen the plant is the result of a two-year effort by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, local officials, the state’s congressional delegation, and the Biden administration, all of whom came up with a package of incentives to keep the plant afloat, reports Crain’s Chicago Business.
On Thursday, Biden told autoworkers that he spoke with local union leaders over the summer—and then made a phone call to executives at Stellantis to help convince them to reopen the shuttered plant.
“When that happens, the community loses more than jobs. You lose a sense of dignity. Everything changes. It’s devastating,” Biden said. “It was my priority (to reopen the plant).”
Union leaders have corroborated the story, noting Biden called them and “flat-out said he was going to reach out to Stellantis to see what we need to do to keep the plant open.”
The latest plan involves rebuilding and expanding the Belvidere plant so it can begin producing 80,000 to 100,000 mid-size trucks annually by 2027, Reuters reports. It’s unclear how much federal or state funding will go toward the project, but it’s likely to be more than $500 million.
As part of its recent, strike-ending agreement with the UAW, Stellantis also reportedly agreed to build a new $3.2 billion battery plant and invest $1.5 million in a new mid-size truck factory in Illinois—a move that’s set to create 5,000 new union jobs in the state.
Biden said the investments are a “gigantic deal” for the small city of Belvidere.
He added: “I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s future than I am today.”
Fain praised the Biden administration’s involvement in the labor talks and the president’s visit to a UAW picket line in Michigan.
In September, Biden grabbed a bullhorn and became the first president to visit a picket line and stand in solidarity with striking workers at a General Motors plant in Wayne County, Michigan.
Donning a union ball cap and exchanging fist bumps, Biden told dozens of United Auto Workers union strikers at General Motors Willow Run Redistribution Center that “you deserve the significant raise you need.” And when asked if workers deserve raises to match soaring corporate profits, Biden said: “Yes. I think they should be able to bargain for that.”
Local union leaders in Belvidere also credited Biden for helping expedite the negotiations.
“The stand-up strike was a movement that went across the country. It inspired so many people. It inspired (Biden),” said Matt Frantzen, president of UAW Local No. 1268 in Belvidere. “He came out and stood with the picketers. He’s always been for us, with us. He proved that.”
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